1973 December. Countries were invited to a UNO meeting at New York. 2000 representatives from 150 countries  reached. Their need was common sea laws for everyone. Already two meetings dissolved without arriving at a common point. So, they really wanted to reach a solution that time. Even in cold war conditions discussions were getting hot. Arguments, reasons, rights etc were going on. Years passed by. It reached almost a decade. i.e. Nine years were needed to reach an agreeable conclusion, applicable to all. In 1982, Law of the Sea convention, also known as Law of the Sea Treaty was signed which defines the laws and rules needed to be followed by all nations while using oceans. It consists of 320 articles and it again took a Jupiter year to completely implement it. That means a time lag of 12 years.

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Why is it so difficult to make sea laws? Main fact lies in its size. As you know, 70% of earth is filled with water. Sea is an abundant reservoir of wide variety of fish, energy, petroleum mining etc. Also, travel across the oceans and security of countries are also very important. A country sharing a sea edge may have security treat along its sea boundaries. One country’s interest may be just opposite its neighbouring nation and both of them can claim same ocean paths. Such disputes can again create problems. Disputes over sea boundaries were common in the ancient centuries also. 

Our sea laws

According to the conclusions reached at the early discussion stages of UNO meetings, Indian sea laws were coded.  It’s known as ‘The territorial waters, continental shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and other Maritime Zones Act 1976. According to this law, sea zones of India are divided and described. Coast Guard Act, 1978 gives safety to coastal regions of India. It also includes security of fishermen and monetary and other helps in case of danger. It also aims security of life and marine resources check pollution and full implementation of laws in the coastal regions. Maritime Zones of India Regulation of Fishery by Foreign Vessels Act, 1981 prevents foreign ships and boats from using marine resources of our country. Also, giving license to fishing boats come under this law. If some foreign boat breaks this law, it can be punished with 15 lakh
rupees and up to three years imprisonment.

Exclusively for everyone!

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Earlier, powerful countries used to rule their surrounding seas as well. They even restricted the sail of foreign ships with a hidden intension of forbidding foreign sellers in their country. In 1906, a lawyer named Grotius put forward the suggestion of free sea. His book, ‘Mare Liberum’ consisting of 36 pages paved way to his recognition as ‘Founder of International Law’. The concept that sea belongs to everyone gave life to rights of free trade across the whole through seas. But when marine resources were more exposed, it led to the misuse of that right. After UNO was formed, every member felt the need of a set of sea rules applicable to everyone to avoid conflicts and misuses. Thus meetings were organized to discuss this matter seriously and later they came to be known as ‘UNCLOS’ (United Nation’s Convention on Law of the Sea). Since Unclose1 of 1958 and Unclose2 of 1960 couldn’t reach anywhere, Unclose3 was called in 1973 which later led to the formation of sea rules.

Sea boundaries

According to the Law of Sea convention, certain rights were given to countries, also certain restrictions made. Some of them are as follows.

High sea – After 200 nautical miles

High sea is not under the control of any country. All nations around it have equal rights. Yet, they have to agree to some sea rules. For example, no nuclear explosions are permitted in High Sea.

Exclusive Economic Zone– Till 200 nautical miles

Each country has full rights over the sea, from territorial sea to 200 nautical miles and all its sea wealth is included in this rights. Marine resources include sea food, power from tides, mining etc. Also, rights are given to conduct scientific explorations in those regions. It also includes power to stop other countries from dumping of wastes in their economic zone.

Continental Shelf - Till 200 nautical miles

This zone includes 200 nautical miles from sea shores of a particular country. Rights are given to use full marine resources in this area. Also, building artificial islands, explorations, pipelines, cables etc are also allowed.

Territorial waters - Till 12 nautical miles

A country has exclusive rights over this zone. 12 nautical miles is equal to 22 kms and foreign ships can travel through this boundary without doing any harm to the country. It’s known as innocent passage. But can’t use this area for fishing, researches, spying or waste disposal. Laws restrict them from firing in the territorial waters. 

International Seabed Authority

Every country has equal rights over High Sea. So, naturally a question arises. How much right is given to a country for doing scientific experiments and mining? Such disputes led to the formation of International Seabed Authority. All activities in those belts, even deep sea explorations are fully controlled by this authority. India has 46,000 km coastal belt and 150000 square kilometer mining property.

United Nation’s Tribunal for Law of Sea

Disputes may occur for sea boundaries and rights over marine resources. United Nation’s Tribunal can be called as court of sea, located at Germany to solve such problems.

Firing from ships during early ages

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Most recently, we have seen Italian shooting in the Arabian Sea which led to the death of 2 fishermen, one from Kerala and one from Tamil Nadu. Since they broke the sea rules, they settled the dispute by giving 1.25 crore rupees to each fishermen’s family. Such incidents never seize in spite of several sea laws. Also, some areas are under the treat of pirates. In History it’s told about many sea wars fought between war ships of different countries. Years before, such an incident occurred in America in the year 1933. An American ship was downloading cargo in Belgium when an American employee of the ship fired at his friend. The ship was taken to Philadelphia port for trial. Court said that since the incident happened in another country, they don’t have the authority to trial the person and the murderer was given bail. Later America approached Supreme Court for judgment. If a crime was done in another country or its citizen has lost his life, procedures are to be done according to that country’s laws. But here, an American has killed another American. Since Belgium has not asked for any such procedures, let America continue their investigations!

Waste even in sea!

Throwing waste has now become a common phenomenon. Even seas are not away from those waste deposits. Throwing wastes in sea can lead to many environment hazards including the death of sea life and contamination of water. Nowadays, it’s common habit to dump waste chemicals and electronic equipments in High Sea. According to Law of Sea convention Article 195, punishments can be given to such law breakers.

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It's 30 years now since Law of Sea convention is formulated and every nation is strictly following it. Those Articles  written a few pages have really determined sea laws to be followed by every country and even after 30 years, it's importance still remain the same to keep friendly relations among the nations intact! Through this article I have briefly explained the formation of Law of Sea convention and it's journey till now. Also, I have tried to explain some important sea laws coded by India after that. Hoping you like it!


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